Van alle kanten krijgen we diensten en producten aangereikt om het leven makkelijker te maken. Maar moeten niet we meer in plaats van minder tijd nemen om te koken. Zelf nadenken in plaats van maaltijdboxen bestellen. Hannah is er duidelijk over: laat je niet betuttelen en denk zelf na. YFMer Hannah Fuellenkemper schrijft over voedsel, heeft haar eigen blog en organiseert de sit-down supper club.
Who do we blame? The adman for infecting us, or the society that his ad reflects? It’s tempting to want to blame the adman. I know I did, calling him all sorts of colorful names as I ranted to anyone who would or wouldn’t necessarily listen. I was so preoccupied with his evils that I even started on the subject in an interview (I got the job, versatility of my vocabulary notwithstanding). How dare a food company, any company talk about food the way this one did (hello, Hello Fresh). How dare anyone scrape so low as to use a picture of a beautiful fish and ask whether it doesn’t appeal to you; you, the (supposedly) aware, involved, emotionally developed, intelligent, always connected consumer in its icky whicky drippy baby voicey: vind jij vis vies?
Did they just throw the fish away afterwards? Its job / life / what’s the difference, done?
Yeah, that ad. Actually, I say ‘that’ but it went up and down so quick, the God of Mercy only allowing its makers to labour under their mistake for about a week before someone — god bless you mercy — realized they should take it down, I hope under the cover of night, that you may have missed it. But fear not. I was so incensed by it I took a picture of it. Which made me think about it. And then I realized that besides being depressing, it was also quite (morbidly) interesting. After all, whoever came up with the thing had managed to sum up Dutch food culture in just 5 words and this was interesting because ads don’t come out of a vacuum. They reflect society.
The ad is insulting on two levels
First, by asking people whether they find fish gross, it is reducing a product of nature to something that’s merely there for you to choose not to be your favourite food (even worse, disgusting). This is insulting to something that is a millionfold more impressive then anything humanity can ever come up with, let alone Hello Fresh. And when I say it’s an insult to nature, I don’t mean it in a ‘quick let’s hug a tree so it knows we love it’ way; but in a, ‘have some respect for the things around you that just so happen to also be the things that keep you alive’ way. The ad fosters exactly the attitude that has gotten us to the point where 75% of animal species will be wiped out because we think nature is there solely for our own disposal. Literally. So much so that we’ve managed things you’d think were unthinkable such as, oh, I dunno, the fact that, ’up to 86 per cent of all suspected illegal tropical wood entering the EU and US arrives in the form of paper, pulp or wood chips’. Yes. We’re turning the Amazon into wood chips, making money on it and what? Buying a bigger TV?
Second, it is insulting to the intelligence of the people who actually have to read the thing and a display of infantilisation to a gross degree. And I here I mean the adult usage of the word gross. (For anyone that doubts this is infantilisation to any degree, this should clear it up: there was another variation denouncing children’s other commonly thought of least favourite food, mushrooms: vindt je champignons niet lekker?) And that is not ok.
Let me repeat: treating someone as a child or in a way which denies their maturity in age or experience is not ok. Not ok in so many ways and yet the majority of the food industry is bending over itself backwards to tell you otherwise. Bending over itself to make food FUN and colourful and super makkelijk. To assure you that it knows being an adult is hard, so let’s pretend you’re not one. (Cherry tomatoes rebranded as candy tomatoes instead of emphasizing their benefits without referring to candy? Great idea!) The industry is quick to tell you: No worries you’re too busy to go shopping; no sweat you’re too busy to think about the products you consume. Relax! We know you’re too busy to cook. It’s fine, even, that you’ve forgotten how to cook. Its insistence on providing us with quick-fixes; its pandering to our self importance, is basically saying it’s fine that these values and skills will not be passed on to the next generation. That it’s absolutely not something you should worry about that huge swathes of society will no longer be able to do what their grandparents could. Remember when your oma used to bring you to those gross bloody places called butchers? It tells you, Trust us to make it easy for you, to make your choices for you, and oh, p.s., have you read our little life changing tip on the packet of grated cheese you just picked up on autopilot where we suggest you try sprinkling it on your tostie? Did you read the one on the yoghurt carton where we give you the idea of adding a little pizazz to your breakfast routine and try pouring a little over your cereal? Can these ‘suggestions’ be any more oppressive to aspiration?
Just look at how the country’s dominant supermarket chain handles its responsibility to impart sound guidance. Look at what a riot is the Allerhande. A riot of colour, overdone food styling, over exposure, mason jars, cute stripy straws, BBQs with budget meat and ‘recipes’ besides those that may actually be recipes but which are then uninspired. The people behind it don’t want you to cook. They want to print a magazine because everyone’s printing food magazines these days or so they’ve heard. It’s likely they haven’t actually read any of the others though because then they would have noticed that they deal with such lofty subjects as quality. Which is when you call me a food snob.
Why not teach about quality?
But bemoaning the fact the Dutch food industry speaks to the people that buys its products as children; placing food high up on a shelf with all the other big adult issues that you shouldn’t touch, shouldn’t worry about because we’ll feed you bite size chunks of what we think you should know; instead of rising to the challenge of teaching people about quality, instead of rising to the challenge of giving people the tools to decide for themselves what is good, the knowledge they need to decide for themselves whether they should support a particular practice and what it means to buy what they buy, is not being a snob. It is being worried. Worried that there is so little of an aspirational example being set and worried that this problem is so entrenched in the country’s food culture that our geniuses over at Hello Fresh thought it would be no big deal to openly refer to what has, up until now, been a largely subliminal erosion of consumer responsibility.
But remember how we thought maybe society was to blame too? Ok so here’s looking at you schools. What’s going on? What’s the government saying about it? Why is it acceptable to eat pre-sliced white bread with chocolate sprinkles and cheap, spreadable ‘meat’ every day? I don’t mean you should never eat chocolate sprinkles (though I do object to the spreads), but why do so many people do it all the time without anyone blinking an eye? This isn’t a class issue and you can’t say, ‘it’s cultural’. Culture is not mutually exclusive to education. Why aren’t people thinking for themselves? Why aren’t they aspiring to better lunches? Or to put it another way, at what point was everyone told this is what’s for lunch?
Food is a matter of education
Food is not fashion. It is not there for you to pick up as you please, if you please. It is a matter of education and it is compulsory. It is a responsibility. And yet it seems not to be. So few people seem to think ‘food’ and ‘respect’ have anything to do with each other. They see no further than feeding themselves, that doing so is unrelated to anything else but maybe their health. Some cannot even do this, and must rely on others to tell them what to do and what to eat. So few seem to know where what they eat comes from; and I don’t mean geographically (although that’s a fun trick too), but what it means in a wider sense for you to be able to buy meat for 6,- and those meat spreads for half that (if they did, would a thinking person want to see it on their lunch table)? Ever wonder how you can buy 3 mangoes for 99c? I don’t want to know where Dutch children are taught tomatoes come from or how they’re meant to taste (not like Dutch tomatoes), or from where they get their milk. Don’t you think that if they knew a greater proportion of this country’s massive dairy offering would be organic? They’ll have no doubt heard about organic, but do they know what it means in terms of supporting life? Have they been told about sustainability? Seasonality? Quality? About MSC fish and 3 star life ratings? About the fact the pig’s meat that’s in their cheap pork sausages charring on the grill in the Vondelpark came from a pig that never got to stand up but which was artificially inseminated over and over again lying on its side in a cage? What it means to eat a chicken that’s never had the space to spread its wings or, even worse, throw half away because they weren’t hungry? If this stuff isn’t being spoken about, why not? Because it’s upsetting?
Opting out is not an option. You cannot decide this isn’t a responsibility for you and you should not be told you can, directly or indirectly. Too busy not to make a choice is not good enough. Goddammit if something’s had to suffer or die for you, the least you could do is spare a thought on making the right decision. You cannot opt out of the respect a sustainable food chain demands and it is increasingly important that every food chain becomes more sustainable. And if this is all news to you, then I guess you could blame your teachers, the government, your family… but then that’s a bit like me blaming the adman.
// Tekst & Beeld: Hannah Fuellenkemper
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